Limits of Intelligence

Ah, Dilbert.  A bright and shining light in the world of corporate drudgery.  We’ve all had scenes from our life play out there.  Not as many as in OneFTE perhaps, but still a few.  And I have admittedly developed an affinity for his blog as well.  So I resisted writing about this whole Metafilter/Reddit thing when it came out.  But now I think it’s a good time to talk about it, mostly as an uninterested bystander.

Here’s the short version.

  • Readers of the Adams Blog got to pick a topic about which he would write.  They choose “Men’s Rights.”
  • In typical from, Adams tore it apart, but in a lighthearted and funny way.  The readers of the blog, in large part, loved his take and were entertained.
  • Feminist blogs and…um…whatever you call Men’s Rights…Maninist?  Machoist?  SadoMachoist?…took offense at his post.  Most of them doing so without actually reading it, but instead reading bits of it that were reposted out of context.
  • Adams took the post down, with a note that the material that was written for his audience was being taken out of context, and while he was fully aware that The Google forgets nothing, he removed it anyway.
  • Critics then took issue with Adams removing the blog, and said some unkind things on the aforementioned Metafilter/Reddit.
  • Adams took to those sights under a screenname of PlannedChaos and defended himself in third person.
  • Someone figured it out.
  • Adams confessed on his blog, and talked about emotion and rational thought, and how they are often disconnected.  And he predicted much of what he said would be criticized by people who hadn’t actually read it, but instead reading bits of it that were reposted out of context.
  • Some people have now taken issue with his admission.  Most of them doing so without actually reading it, but instead reading bits of it that were reposted out of context.  Again.

And yes, that is the short version.

I’m an admitted fan of his work.  Adams writes some really interesting pieces, almost all hypothetical musings about such topics as utopian societies, the business world and the impact of leader decisions on real world companies.  Often he ends them with a reminder not to take advice from a cartoonist.

But what I find really fascinating, and the reason I choose the above strip, it that there is clearly a disconnect between Adams and his critics, and the divide seems to be centered on intelligence.  Adams is a smart dude, no question.  We may not have test scores, but we have a huge body of work from which to distill this fact.  His critics are of such a wide and deep pool, there are probably some very smart (and likely some not too bright) people in the conversation.  So why the disconnect?

In my experience, people with very high levels of intelligence, be it straight education, “street smarts”, innate verbal or linguistic skills, or just plain computational horsepower, work at a different speed than those around them.  This leads to a bevvy of issues.

  • They reach the solution before many people comprehend the problem.
  • They become impatient to implement what they can see needs to be done.
  • They are misunderstood by their peers.
  • They are occasionally seen as “arrogant” or an “intellectual bully.”

The tragedy, of course, is that these reactions by those not on the same level work to supress their impact, and make them less valuable to the organization than they should be.  And, as we’ve seen in the case of Adams, attempts to explain or rationalize tend to make things worse.  As Adams has said, rational discussion rarely changes anyone’s opinion.  Especially opinions based on emotion.

Intelligence needs to be tempered with patience to be effective, as well as the ability to see a lost battle and walk away.  The issue Adams is having is that he enjoys the battle, as do a lot of high-intelligence people, and end up amused by the frothing of the masses.  That doesn’t help either.

As a leader, you have an opportunity to watch for these patterns of behavior and cut them off quickly.  Learn to distinguish between those who are steps ahead of everyone else and those who are combative.  One is a tremendously valuable asset.   The other should be shown the door.

But, as Adams has proven, they look very similar from a distance.




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